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Better attacking dinking is as easy as turning on the TAPS

As players move through their pickleball career, they can no longer rely upon a healthy supply of unforced errors. Simple lift dinks without much purpose or intention won’t create challenges for your opponents: they are the “dead” dinks of pickleball lore. For a good while, and potentially a lot of your journey (if you aren’t looking to move beyond a fun social activity), these basic dinks will suffice as your opponent’s shot inconsistency will help you win points. But if you want to move beyond this, you need to turn on the TAPS.

As you can guess, TAPS is an acronym: for the four variables to explore and modify with dinks to create more attacking, penetrating dinks. In reality, these four variables are key modifiers for every shot: Trajectory, Angle, Pace, Spin. They test a player’s “receiving” skills by asking them to judge these variables, challenging how well they move and adjust their position and stroke to account for them.

Trajectory is where you can alter net clearance, depth of the landing point of your shots and also use your own movement to adjust your contact point to manipulate the arc of the ball you send back. This last factor is the one least used: higher level players are adept at stepping back to buy time to get a more advantageous contact height. Tyson McGuffin talks about not digging for trash with balls too low on the volley and with you off balance. Better to adjust so that your trajectory can be more challenging on your next shot. This is where that classic “push” dink is made: changing the contact point by letting the ball bounce higher so your dink gets closer to an opponent’s feet with a “flatter” arc shot. If you can’t get deep enough or the ball high enough, default to a lift dink with hopefully one of the other three variables.

Angle is fairly simple: how far from sending the ball back in a straight line where it came from are you going to aim it? As there are no strings on the paddle, it has a reduced dwell time with a plastic pickleball. The bigger the change, the harder to make perfect contact. This means more risk: I’ll do a future post just on this one factor as it’s so vital and will update this post when live. For now, just be mindful of how big a change you make.

Pace is how hard you hit the ball: this variable interacts with the first two and the last one. In fact, they all interact with each other. Pace is a tricky one as small changes of pace substantially alter how far the ball travels longitudinally. Too hard means too deep and normally too high. It’s often best to alter pace upwards when a higher contact point and hit slower with a lower contact point. Think “higher means fire” and “lower means slower”. If you are going to try a variation, hit a lower ball harder as a surprise, slowing a higher ball down is often letting an opportunity to attack go. I prefer to use the term pace instead of power, as power is a little more aggressive in many player’s minds and pace can go both ways, slower and quicker. It’s a subtle language distinction that creates a slightly wider mindset of how to adjust ball speed: it’s not just speeding up!

Spin is the one to use with most caution: it’s further reducing your contact time by brushing across the ball’s path and is reliant on quality control of the paddle head speed, paddle angle and swing path. Spin is where most lower level and newer players go wrong. It’s adding additional risk for often minimal gain so is the last of the TAPS for most players to turn to. It can help with trajectory with top spin dipping a ball late and permitting more pace: this shows the relationship between each turn of the tap.

How do you best apply this knowledge to make dinks more attacking ? Try to avoid hitting any dink without applying a turn of one of the TAPS. Maybe a simple “half turn” of one is enough to challenge an opponent: slightly wider angle from outside to inside foot of your opponent is a good place to start. As your skill set increases, you can turn more of the TAPS by larger amounts and in combination to make your dinks penetrate into the court, attack your opponent’s weaknesses and ask challenging questions of their skills.

Let me know how this works for you via the usual channels: email, comment here and my social feeds on Facebook and Instagram. Be careful to not turn the TAPS too much, too early in your playing career or you might get a “splashback” of a speed up or “sink” a dink in the net.

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